With sharp passes, sound defense, and goals a plenty, the United States men’s soccer team could not have found a more perfect time to perfect their playing.
Clarence Goodson and Joe Corona scored during an eight-minute span of the first half, and the U.S. cruised past El Salvador 5-1 Sunday to advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan and Mix Diskerud added second-half goals for the Americans, who will play Honduras in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday night.
Honduras beat Costa Rica 1-0 on Sunday night as part of a doubleheader before a sellout crowd at the home stadium of the Baltimore Ravens.
Assists aren't an official statistic in the Gold Cup, but Donovan set up three scores in a dazzling performance.
"I think Landon proved again today how valuable he is and now he can make a difference," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "This game was important for coaches to see who is a difference maker. Overall, we see our team clicking more and playing better and better."
To say the least.
The U.S. has won nine straight full internationals — a record for the country's national team. The Americans have also prevailed in seven of their last eight Gold Cup matches, the exception being a 4-2 loss to Mexico in 2011 final.
"We are trying to catch up with the big teams in the world," Klinsmann said. "It's all about speed. I'm not talking about physical speed. I'm talking about mental speed, passing speed with every player going both ways. That's what we're working to. This is a process and I think that process is coming along."
Rodolfo Zelaya scored for El Salvador, 1-19-7 overall against the U.S.
"Collectively, they're a very good team," El Salvador coach Agustin Castillo said through a translator. "They almost play by memory. They can find the spaces. It almost seems like every time they pass the ball into a space it's going to nobody, then somebody appears and actually meets the ball. Good work, good movement."
And good enough to claim a fifth Gold Cup.
"They're going through a very good time," Castillo said. "They're the best team I've seen in this tournament. They are a candidate to win it all."
Goodson put the U.S. ahead in the 21st minute by converting a crossing pass from Donovan, who gained possession near the end line within 15 feet of the net. It was Goodson's fifth career goal, the second in the Gold Cup.
Minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando kicked aside a straight-on shot by Lester Blanco Pineda and batted away the subsequent rebound at the right corner of the net.
In the 29th minute, Corona gained possession at the top of the penalty area and used his right foot to line a shot into the left corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
That drained much of the enthusiasm from the strong contingent of blue-and-white clad El Salvador fans.
The U.S. continued to dominate, and it took several strong saves by Dagoberto Portillo to keep El Salvador within striking distance.
Momentum shifted in the 39th minute, when El Salvador's Rodolfo Zelaya was fouled by DaMarcus Beasley and converted the penalty kick to make it 2-1.
It was perhaps the lone flaw in an otherwise lopsided match.
"The difference today was scoring early goals," Donovan said. "Even though they got a questionable goal back, we still kept going and our effort was really good. Obviously, to score five goals is a bonus."
Johnson added an insurance goal with a header off a pass from Donovan in the 60th minute. The score came 14 seconds after Johnson entered as a substitute.
Donovan converted a breakaway in the 78th minute. He is only player in history to score in six Gold Cup tournaments.
Six minutes later, as a sudden rain shower began to pick up intensity, Diskerud found the back of the net.
Five goals, five scorers. That's balance.
"It seems like we've been playing with each other for a while," Jose Torres said. "We move the ball well, we know each other well — where we're going to move. I think we're looking good right now."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.